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Alex Wright

Alex Wright

Department: English (C.18th and Romantic Studies)

Supervisor: Dr. Philip Connell

College: Sidney Sussex

AHRC Subject Area: Literature

Title of Thesis: Literary History and Historia Literaria in Eighteenth-Century England


Biography:

I read for my undergraduate degree at Lincoln College, Oxford, before coming to Cambridge for my M.Phil and now Ph.D.

My thesis is about the impact in eighteenth-century England of a learned, initially Latinate genre known abroad as 'historia literaria' or 'Gelehrsamkeitsgeschichte'. This genre was enormously popular in Germany, where 'historia literaria' established itself as a taught subject on the curricula of many (Protestant) universities. It aimed to provide students and professors with an account not only of the rise and progress of individual disciplines but also of the history of 'literature' in general - where 'literature' could mean 'learning', 'printed books', 'ideas', or 'culture'. But the common assumption is that this kind of 'literary history' made no impression on English scholars, despite having its origins in a couple of remarks by Francis Bacon. My research aims to uncover some of the ways in which it attracted attention in this country and informed the work of some of the eighteenth-century's most significant figures, like Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon, as well as some lesser-known historians, librarians and philologists like Humphrey Hody, Michael Maittaire, and Thomas Birch.

More generally my interests belong to the ground shared (not always easily) by the history of scholarship and English Literature. Some of the topics I'd like to work on in the future, if not already, are: the relationship between German and English classical scholarship before the nineteenth century; the place of criticism in the history of aesthetics, especially the interplay between 'philology' and 'philosophy' at the end of the eighteenth century; the translation of eighteenth-century vernacular works into Latin; the English reception of two of the most influential and controversial works of Renaissance historiography, Jacques-Auguste de Thou's Historia sui temporis and Paolo Sarpi's Istoria del Concilio Tridentino; and the matrix of learning, preparation, style and personal interest that shaped the practice of writing monumental Latin inscriptions in England.